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The Chronicle's top 10 of 2016: Virginia Elena Carta captures women's golf individual national title in record-setting fashion

<p>Virginia Elena Carta captured Duke's only national championship in 2016.&nbsp;</p>

Virginia Elena Carta captured Duke's only national championship in 2016. 

With the end of 2016 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 2 on our list: Virginia Elena Carta’s individual NCAA championship in women's golf—Duke's only national title in the calendar year.

Before hitting the links at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA championship, then-freshman Virginia Elena Carta had never won a college tournament. 

By the end of the week, the All-American walked away with an NCAA Individual championship by eight strokes, the largest margin in collegiate history.

“Everything feels like a dream this week,” Carta said after her victory.

The native of Udine, Italy held a six-stroke lead at the end of the third of four stroke-play rounds, and eventually posted a four-day total of 16-under-par after shooting a final round 3-under-par 69. 

The eight-shot margin of victory and four-day score were both NCAA championship records.

“She is strong, she hits it straight [and] she is flying it high onto these greens," Duke head coach Dan Brooks said after Carta's win and before his team eventually fell in the national semifinals to Stanford in match play. "She’s got the whole game.”

Second on the team with a 72.5 scoring average, Carta did not finish a tournament even par or better before her seventh college tournament, the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic April 1-3. 

She had struggled with her ball-striking and putting in the ACC championship and the NCAA regionals, posting just one under-par round in the events.

“It was just a nightmare on the green and I was struggling a lot,” Carta said.

But Carta honed her game before the NCAA champhionship, moving closer to the ball with Brooks' guidance—a change that helped her make cleaner contact. Eugene Country Club’s bent grass also made her feel more at home on the putting surfaces—a similar variety to what she played on in Europe.

Carta's putting keyed her unprecedented dominance, helping her lead the tournament in birdies and par-4 scoring average on a course that saw the nation’s best players averaged 2-over-par.

“The numbers tell the story. There’s not much more I can say about it than the fact that she was better than anybody else with her scoring,” Brooks said. “The golf course was challenging—it wasn’t like she did that because the course was easy or anything like that.”

Like she did in 2015, Carta got off to somewhat of a slow start to the fall season. After missing time in the preseason after undergoing wisdom tooth surgery and suffering from an illness, Carta failed to finish in the top 10 in any of her four fall stroke-play tournaments and did not record an under-par round following the second round of the Annika Intercollegiate in September.

But Carta closed the season strong, taking down UCLA’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Lilia Vu in match play at the East Lake Cup before helping Duke win the prestigious tournament with a match-play victory against reigning national champion Washington.

Carta will continue to hone her game and will try to carry that momentum into Duke’s spring season, which begins at the Northrop Grumman Challenge Feb. 12-14 in Palos Verdes, Calif..

READ MORE on Carta’s NCAA championship victory and 2016:

Duke women's golf freshman Virginia Elena Carta captures NCAA championship with record-setting individual performance

Duke women's golf freshman Virginia Elena Carta peaks at right time, dominates NCAA championship

NCAA champion Virginia Elena Carta's stardom grows during busy summer

Check back tomorrow to see what comes in at No. 1 in our countdown of the top Duke sports stories of 2016.

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

10. Duke rowing makes first-ever NCAA championship

9. Duke football rallies to stun Notre Dame as injuries mount

8. Grayson Allen returns for junior season but earns suspension for 3 tripping incidents

7. Duke baseball makes NCAA tournament for first time since 1961

6. Landmark wins against North Carolina in 4 sports

5. Mike Krzyzewski wins third Olympic gold medal

4. Duke women's basketball moves past departures of Stevens and Salvadores, internal investigation

3. Former Duke fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad makes history by wearing hijab at Olympics

Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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